Nav: Home

Achieving a balance: Animal welfare and conservation

January 31, 2019

In a paper recently published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, a team of researchers, animal care experts and veterinarians evaluate the balance between animal welfare and conservation needs for a number of rare species of native birds being raised in San Diego Zoo Global breeding centers in Hawaii. The paper shares the challenges and complexity of situations where the needs of an individual and the needs of a species are weighed, and how that balance is achieved.

"Animal welfare and conservation breeding have overlapping and compatible goals, but promoting optimal welfare in breeding programs can require tactics that minimize the effects of captivity," said Alison Greggor, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate at San Diego Zoo Global in the 'alalā recovery program, which prepares these endangered birds for eventual release into wild habitats. "We offer a perspective on how SDZG's Hawaiian Endangered Bird Conservation Program strives for high welfare standards while balancing the needs for birds to learn skills for the future."

The paper describes a scientific attempt to measure animal welfare standards using guidelines provided through an "Opportunity to Thrive" model, as they are balanced by the need to prepare individuals for naturally occurring stresses.

"We have seen that efforts to improve enclosures, provide enriching experiences, and address behavioral and physical needs further the causes of animal well-being in all zoo settings," said Nadine Lamberski, DVM, director of veterinary services, San Diego Zoo Global. "However, conservation breeding programs must also focus on preparing animals for release into the wild. For many species, wild situations are inherently stressful and require that animals have developed mechanisms for coping with potentially life-threatening challenges."

For this paper, the team studied the welfare needs of a number of endangered bird species, including the 'akikiki and the 'alalā. In 2015, San Diego Zoo Global started a conservation breeding program for the 'akikiki, an endangered honeycreeper species found only in Kaua'i's remote forests. As a means of preventing their extinction, the breeding program focuses on maintaining wild-type behaviors and minimizing contact with humans.

Meanwhile, the 'alalā, or Hawaiian crow, has been extinct in the wild since 2002, preserved only at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers managed by San Diego Zoo Global's Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. Through a collaborative effort with partners from the 'Alalā Project, reintroduction of the species began in 2016, into a protected and recovered native forest on the island of Hawai'i.

"As we enter the reintroduction phase of the recovery of this species, we learn more about the species and what it needs to survive in a natural habitat," said Ron Swaisgood, Ph.D., director of Recovery Ecology, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. "A recent change in the program shifted our practices away from hand-rearing, towards allowing adult birds in our care to raise their own chicks. This meant a higher likelihood of nest failure for some pairs, but is an important aspect of species socialization and is expected to increase the success of reintroduced groups over the long term."

The paper describes in detail the scientific evaluation of animal welfare parameters, in balance with conservation needs, suggesting a model for future similar efforts and indicating areas for improvement.

"While we consider high standards of welfare to be a priority goal for all species, we identified several challenges that are applicable to the care of species being reintroduced," said Greg Vicino, curator of Applied Animal Welfare, San Diego Zoo Global. "The need to stay as 'hands-off' as possible means we cannot rely on traditional operant training techniques, and instead must utilize behavioral observation in multiple contexts. The more we learn about the unique species under our care, the more we can provide them with opportunities to thrive."
-end-
As an international nonprofit organization, San Diego Zoo Global works to fight extinction through conservation efforts for plants and animals worldwide. With a history of leadership in species recovery and animal care, San Diego Zoo Global works with partners in science-based field programs on six continents, and maintains sanctuaries and public education facilities in many places. Inspiring passion for nature is critical to saving species, and San Diego Zoo Global's outreach efforts share the wonder of wildlife with millions of people every year. Current major conservation initiatives include: fighting wildlife trafficking and the impacts of climate change on wildlife species; broad-spectrum species and habitat protection efforts in Kenya, in Peru and on islands worldwide; preventing extinction in our own backyard; and expanding efforts to bank critical genetic resources and apply them to the conservation of critically endangered species. To learn more, visit sandiegozooglobal.org.

San Diego Zoo Global

Related Conservation Articles:

Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
Researchers investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats in Yellowstone National Park.
Applying biodiversity conservation research in practice
One million species are threatened with extinction, many of them already in the coming decades.
Making conservation 'contagious'
New research reveals conservation initiatives often spread like disease, a fact which can help scientists and policymakers design programs more likely to be taken up.
Helping conservation initiatives turn contagious
New research shows that conservation initiatives go viral, which helps scientists and policymakers better design successful programs more likely to be adopted.
Overturning the truth on conservation tillage
Conservation tillage does not lower yield in modern cropping systems.
Talking to each other -- how forest conservation can succeed
Forest conservation can be a source of tension between competing priorities and interests from forestry, science, administration and nature conservation organizations.
Better conservation through satellites
The use of satellite telemetry in conservation is entering a 'golden age,' and is now being used to track the movements of individual animals at unprecedented scales.
Maximizing conservation benefits
Overexploitation and population collapse pose significant threats to marine fish stocks across the globe.
Living room conservation: Gaming & virtual reality for insect and ecosystem conservation
Gaming and virtual reality could bridge the gap between urban societies and nature, thereby paving the way to insect conservation by the means of education and participation.
CSI meets conservation
The challenges of collecting DNA samples directly from endangered species makes understanding and protecting them harder.
More Conservation News and Conservation Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab